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American Resources Policy Network
Promoting the development of American mineral resources.
  • “Supply Chain” Begins With “Supply:” Department of Commerce 100-Day Report Chapter on Complex Semiconductor Supply Chain

    Current news coverage may have you believe that when it comes to critical minerals, all we’re talking about is Rare Earths and battery tech metals, such as Lithium, Cobalt, Manganese, Nickel and Graphite. However, while certainly extremely important for 21st Century technology, these materials and the sectors in which they find key applications only represent the tip of the proverbial iceberg when it comes to securing critical mineral supply chains.

    In its 100 Day Supply Chain Report, the Biden Administration dedicated an entire chapter to the supply chains of semiconductors — for good reason.

    Semiconductors have become indispensable components for a broad range of electronic devices, and their importance cannot be overstated. The Department of Commerce-led chapter in the report cites the transformational impact of the colloquial computer chip as the launching point of its review:

    “Semiconductors are the material basis for integrated circuits that are essential to modern day life and are used by the typical consumer on a daily, if not hourly, basis. The semiconductor-based integrated circuit is the ‘DNA’ of technology and has transformed essentially all segments of the economy, from agriculture and transportation to healthcare, telecommunications, and the Internet.

    (…)

    In addition to the central role they play in the U.S. economy, semiconductors are essential to national security. Semiconductors enable the development and fielding of advanced weapons systems and control the operation of the nation’s critical infrastructure. They are fundamental to the operation of virtually every military system, including communications and navigations systems and complex weapons systems such as those found in the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. They are key to the ‘must-win’ technologies of the future, including artificial intelligence and 5G, which will be essential to achieving the goal of a ‘dynamic, inclusive and innovative national economy’ identified as a critical American advantage in the March 2021 Interim National Security Strategic Guidance.”

    According to the report, the supply chains for these highly specialized hi-tech components are extremely complex, as the manufacturing of semiconductors “requires hundreds of essential inputs, many of which are raw materials, chemicals, and gases. These materials have their own complex supply chains, and likely contain hidden choke points that could disrupt production.”

    The manufacturing of semiconductors begins with polysilicon, for which the U.S. currently has some production capacity. However, according to the Department of Commerce, “U.S. technological leadership and production of semiconductor-grade polysilicon is at risk due to China’s actions to increase its dominance of both the semiconductor and solar supply chains.” That risk is further heightened now that China is under U.S. import sanctions for producing polysilicon using forced labor in the Province of Xinjiang. U.S. companies importing Chinese products containing polysilicon from Xinjiang risk having those products impounded at American ports by U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

    Two other key semiconductor materials are Gallium and Indium — for both of which the United States is 100% import reliant, both of which made the 2018 official U.S. Critical Minerals List released by the Department of the Interior, and both of which are primarily sourced from China.

    Due to the extremely complex and geographically dispersed nature of the semiconductor supply chain (which results in the typical semiconductor production process spanning multiple countries and products crossing international borders up to 70 times according to the Department of Commerce), there are many access points for supply chain vulnerabilities along the way.

    To address the semiconductor supply chain challenge, the Biden Administration seeks to “bolster its partnership with the private sector in domestic semiconductor manufacturing and R&D,” and “strengthen engagement with allies and partners to promote fair semiconductor chip allocations, increase production, and promote increased investment.”

    However, let’s be clear: As ARPN’s Daniel McGroarty pointed out last year against the backdrop of excitement over the recent announcement of Arizona as the site for Taiwan Semiconductor’s new next-gen semiconductor factory to manufacture their new 5-nanometer (5nm) chips: “the first word in supply chain is ‘supply.’”

    As the Biden Administration begins to tackle the complex semiconductor supply chain challenge in the context of its “all of the above” approach to decouple from adversary nations, it must begin at the beginning.

    Thankfully, the U.S. is not only in the fortunate position to have known resources for both Gallium and Indium (in Texas and Alaska, respectively), both metals can also be “unlocked” in the “co-product” development of their Gateway Metals Aluminum (for Gallium) and Zinc and Tin (Indium) — another reason stakeholders should focus more on the inter-relationship between Gateway Metals and the critical co-products they unlock.

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  • DoD Chapter of 100-Day Supply Chain Report Acknowledges Gateway/Co-product Challenge

    Friends of ARPN will know that much of our work is grounded in a conviction that the Technology Age is driven by a revolution in materials science – a rapidly accelerating effort that is unlocking the potential of scores of metals and minerals long known but seldom utilized in our tools and technologies.”

    In this context we have long argued that while it is essential to focus on the metals and minerals that are driving headlines, such as the Rare Earths and battery tech metals like Lithium, Cobalt, Nickel, Manganese and Graphite, we must not forget about the inter-relationship between what we have been calling “gateway metals” and their “co-products.”

    Gateway metals – which include mainstay metals like Copper, Aluminum, Nickel, Tin, and Zinc, are not only critical to manufacturing in their own right, but “unlock” tech metals increasingly indispensable to innovation and development. For too long, these “unlocked” tech metals were dubbed “by-products,” or even “minor metals” — labels that don’t do these materials and their increasingly broad applications justice.

    Courtesy of the ongoing materials science revolution, both groups of metals and minerals are increasingly becoming the building blocks of 21st Century technology, which is why we believe the “by-products” should be referred to as “co-products.” Meanwhile, many of them are fraught with similar dependency issues like the news-grabbing Rare Earths or battery tech metals.

    As such, we were pleased to see that the DoD-led chapter of the White House’s 100-Day Supply Chain Report not only draws attention to this issue complex, but also appears to have embraced the “co-product” label – using it interchangeably with the term “byproduct.”

    Under the header “Byproduct and Coproduction Dependency,” the DoD chapter argues that “[b]yproduct production of strategic and critical materials can add significant value to an existing production operation and improve the business case for a nascent producer. However, some strategic and critical materials are derived exclusively from byproduct production, which means a fairly small market depends on the prevailing dynamics of a separate but much larger commodity market. (…) In some cases the concentration of supply can be so extreme that U.S. or global production is concentrated in a single source. (…) More generally, in DoD modeling of strategic and critical materials under national emergency conditions, a domestic sole-source provider exists for 29 of the 53 unclassified shortfall materials, and 18 materials have no domestic production at all.”

    This is a significant development, because unlike the recently released Canadian government’s official critical minerals list, the U.S. Government’s List of 35, released in 2018, did not acknowledge the connection between primary mining materials and their critical-co-products.

    With the gateway/co-product challenge finding its way into public discourse by way of the 100-Day Supply Chain report, there is hope that the drafters of a forthcoming updated U.S. Government Critical Minerals List will acknowledge the importance of Gateway Metals — and that policy makers will factor this issue complex into the “all of the above” approach. As yesterday’s “minor metals” become major materials in tech applications, America’s mineral resource security may well hinge on encouraging innovative sources of supply.

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  • Canada’s Just-Released List of 31 Critical Minerals Includes Key Gateway Metals

    As demand for critical minerals is increasing in the context of the global shift towards a green energy future, Canada’s Minister of Resources Seamus O’Regan Jr. earlier this week announced the release of a Canadian list of 31 metals and minerals deemed critical “for the sustainable economic success of Canada and our allies—minerals that can [...]
  • Materials Science Revolution Continues to Yield Breakthroughs – a Look at Scandium

    Did you turn on the TV to watch the SpaceX Crew Dragon take off en route to the International Space Station yesterday only to be disappointed?  The long-awaited historic first launch of American astronauts from U.S. soil in nearly nine years has been postponed due to weather, but there’s a still good chance we will [...]
  • ARPN’s McGroarty for The Hill: Strength through Peace – Dropping Sec. 232 Tariffs on Aluminum and Steel Could Strengthen U.S. Position vis-a-vis China

    In a new piece for The Hill, ARPN’s Dan McGroarty zeroes in on the inter-relationship of trade and resource policy, which has been an increasingly recurring theme over the past few months. McGroarty argues that the removal of U.S. tariffs on steel and aluminum coming from Mexico and Canada, which have been a “dead weight on [...]
  • Aluminum and the Intersection of Trade and Resource Policy: U.S. Senator Discusses Need to Remove Sec. 232 Tariffs

    In an interview with Fox and Friends, U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley (R, Iowa) discusses the path to what he terms a major trade victory for the U.S.  In order for this to happen, he believes removing the Sec. 232 tariffs from the USMCA, the new and yet-to-be-ratified U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade deal to replace NAFTA struck in [...]
  • Sustainable Sourcing to Support Green Energy Shift – A Look at Copper

    Followers of ARPN will know that Copper is more than just an old school mainstay industrial metal.   We’ve long touted its versatility, stemming from its traditional uses, new applications and Gateway Metal status. Courtesy of the ongoing materials science revolution, scientists are constantly discovering new uses – with the latest case in point being [...]
  • 2019 New Year’s Resolutions for Mineral Resource Policy Reform

    Out with the old, in with the new, they say. It‘s new year‘s resolutions time.  With the end of 2017 having set the stage for potentially meaningful reform in mineral resource policy, we outlined a set of suggested resolutions for stakeholders for 2018 in January of last year.  And while several important steps  were taken [...]
  • Gold Leapfrogged by “Obscure and Far Less Sexy” Metal – A Look at Palladium

    Valuable and precious, Gold, for example in jewelry, is a popular go-to for gifts during the holidays.  Who knew that gold’s luster would be dimmed by a metal that “scrubs your exhaust,” as the New York Times phrased it?  It may still not end up under many Christmas trees, but Palladium, an “obscure and far less sexy [...]
  • Passing the Torch – Change in Leadership at Critical Materials Institute (CMI)

    There’s a lot going on in the realm of critical minerals these days – and that does not only apply to policy, but also personnel changes. After five years of building and leading the Critical Materials Institute (CMI), a Department of Energy research hub under the auspices of Ames Laboratory, its Director Dr. Alex King [...]

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